New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton had to quarantine for five days and miss practice after violating the NFL's health and safety protocols for unvaccinated players. In his absence, first-round pick Mac Jones stepped up and ran the first-team offense.
Even after Newton's return, Jones took the bulk of the first-team reps. That came as quite a shock since Mac Jones never got the opportunity to lead the starting offense with Newton around.
The former Alabama star hasn't been sensational in the preseason, but he has had some highlights. In Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, he completed 13 out of 19 pass attempts for 146 yards.
Cam Newton had a better game, going 12-16 for 152 yards and a touchdown. However, it's encouraging to see Mac Jones compete admirably against Newton.
The rookie QB gained valuable experience
With Cam Newton quarantining, Mac Jones was able to gain valuable experience in practice. He played against New England's starting defense, executing the offensive playbook.
Jones and Newton both took part in the Patriots' joint practice with the New York Giants. In the joint 11-on-11 drill, Jones completed nine out of 19 pass attempts, including a touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne.
It wasn't the prettiest performance, but the touchdown pass against the starting Giants defense - that ranked 12th in the league in 2020 - showed that Jones is ascending in the right direction as a passer.
Mac Jones vs. Cam Newton for the starting job
Newton's absence may have been the best thing for Jones. It allowed him to play with the Patriots' offensive starters and get valuable reps against a stellar defense.
Coming into the 2021 NFL season, I still firmly believe that Cam Newton will be the starter. It's not Bill Belichick's forte to play a rookie quarterback. However, Cam Newton's absence allowed Jones to take a big step forward in his first NFL training camp, potentially speeding up the process of him becoming the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots.
Mac Jones may not start in Week 1 but don't be surprised if you see him start later in the season.